According to a world first study on canine jealousy, published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal, our furry friends have been found to have the capacity to experience a basic form of jealousy.
For a long time scientists have argued that emotions of jealousy are limited to humans and their complex cognitive functions, although many dog owners have begged to differ for decades.
The study conducted in San Diego involved researchers observing the owners of 36 small dogs watching for signs of attention-seeking, interest or aggression towards their owners as hints of jealousy, while they undertook the following tests:
. Shower affection on a plush animatronic dog
. Shower affection on a plastic jack-o-lantern pail
. Read a children’s book aloud while ignoring their pet.
The results were overwhelmingly in favour of the dogs having exhibited jealousy with 80% pushing or touching their owner when they were coddling the toy, almost twice as often when the owner played with the pail and about four times as often when the owner was reading.
25% of the dogs even snapped at the life-like toy, which barked, whined and wagged its tail as the owner played with it.
Had the dogs responded with jealously even when their owners read from the book, that would suggest that it wasn’t actually jealousy that motivated their so-called ‘jealous behaviour’, but instead a simple lack of attention.
San Diego psychologist and author of the study, Christine Harris explains the results “Our study suggests not only that dogs do engage in what appear to be jealous behaviours but also that they were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a seeming rival. We can’t really speak to the dog’s subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship”.
The researchers believe that jealousy may have evolved as a way for paired animals to protect their sexual relationships or for baby animals to compete for food and affection from their parents.
They also said jealousy may have developed in dogs due to domestication by humans, particularly as they are accustomed to human social cues.
The research not only provides an insightful understanding of man’s best friend, it also highlights that humans are not alone in experiencing social emotions such as jealousy.